by Mike Ratliff
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
(Psalms 8:3-4 ESV)
The very first line in Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life is, “It’s not about you.” On the cover the subtitle of the book is, “What on Earth am I here for?” I am convinced that most people who buy this book or study it in classes or programs at their churches are looking for “the way” to find God’s will for their life and are hoping that through this study they will find it and will finally be able to get into stride with Him. The fact that the book is packaged attractively and marketed shrewdly has not hurt how far it has spread or how deeply it has become entrenched in huge numbers of churches. If we give the book a cursory examination it appears quite obtuse or benign. Perhaps it’s just another cleverly packaged and well-marketed self-help book for Christians wanting to know how to better serve their Lord. However, God has already given us His Word and provided teachers and preachers who should be rightly dividing it so that we can know His will.
From the Word of God, we learn who He is and who we are. What is man? What is the meaning of life? How should we value ourselves? How should we make crucial decisions? Will we find the answers to these questions along with the myriads of other vital ones from books like The Purpose Driven Life? Rick Warren’s book begins by telling us that life isn’t about us. He is right and wrong. Creation and all that are all about God and His glory. However, He created Man for His glory just as He did the rest of the Universe. The difference between Man and a Gorilla or a Chimpanzee or a Dolphin is that God made Man in His image. No other creature was made that way. Where do we learn this? That is found in the book of Genesis in our Bibles. From that “beginning” we must develop a view of ourselves from God’s perspective. If we do the opposite we become like a ship that has lost its moorings in a storm. We become cast to and fro on each and every wave of change or what is new.
Rick Warren, with his book The Purpose Driven Church, set about reforming the Church into a something new. Instead of being driven by obedience to God in all things for His glory alone, Warren wrote that churches should become driven by purpose. What purpose? That purpose is defined in many ways by Warren in that book, but when it is all condensed down it is best described as being all about getting people who do not go to church to come to church and become so immersed in “the show” then they stay. The purpose then is to direct all aspects of a church to be “missional.” Gone is all deep Bible study from the pulpit. Gone is reverence in worship and reverence in regard to studying the Bible. All of that is replaced with entertaining sermons, entertaining music, entertaining light shows, entertaining visual and audio effects, cool people being cool so that other people will feel comfortable coming into the “experience” to be cool with those other cool people.
I was a Deacon at a church that went “Purpose Driven” in the mid-1990’s. Within the first three months of that happening we lost about 60-75% of our members over the age of 30. In their place we suddenly had a church full of people in their twenties and early thirties who were at best Baby Christians. I had been out of teaching ever since this new pastor came on-board. I had been a Precept Leader and one of the first things he cut was any in-depth Bible studies. That should have been the red flag for us to leave, but we stayed for our children’s sake. About six months later our Pastor called wanting to have dinner with me. I met him at a Mexican Restaurant along with the chairman of the Deacons. It was just we three. I was more than a little concerned. He told me that they were in a lot of trouble. We had a church full of people who knew nothing about the Bible and we had no one to teach them. He wanted me to take the largest age group as their teacher. I was stunned. There were well over 200 people in that age group. I agreed to do it.
Everything went very well as long as I taught from books by Max Lucado or whatever. However, the trouble started when we began a study of David. I used Chuck Swindoll’s book on David as a rough outline. However, I did the Bible studies myself. About four lessons into this, I was called into the Pastor’s office. He had decided to have the Associate Pastor teach that class instead of me. He wanted me to step down and teach the 40’s couples class. Why? There were people in the class who had complained that I was getting too deep and people were feeling threatened by not being able to “keep up.” He decided to make the change to make it more “agreeable.” Some of the people in the class became very upset with that move though. I was called and asked why the change. I had prayed a lot about it and I knew that what I was to do was to simply be obedient to my Pastor and graciously teach those God had given me. It wasn’t long after this that God moved us 100 miles from there so that ended that.
This is the sort of thing that happens in churches that have their focus on people rather than on God and His will. When churches are Purpose Driven, they are actually driven by what people want instead of by seeking God’s will. The focus is on creating an environment that challenges no one. There are no in-depth Bible studies going on because that would make those who “feel threatened” by it uncomfortable. They might leave if someone teaches something that causes conviction to come into their hearts. In other words, there is absolutely no dependence upon the Holy Spirit to take the Word preached and taught and makes it effectual in people’s hearts. Instead, it is all about making people happy. The churches that employ this method can become quite large and busy, but they are like Lake Okeechobee in Florida. It is a huge lake, but it is mostly only a few inches deep. Those people who pick up The Purpose Driven Life in order to get into step with God will find that the focus of that book is on self. While most of the book is not heretical, it does not place our focus on God, as it should. Instead, it looks inward in doing things other than simply believing what God says from His Word. The most disturbing thing that Rick Warren does in both The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life is use several Bible translations and, tragically, he takes countless verses out of context to make them support his thesis.
Is God’s Design Purpose Driven? No, God’s purpose in His creation is for Him to be glorified in it. What about people? Those whom He calls are His people who must believe and repent thereby becoming His children. They then must live as disciples of their Lord Jesus Christ. That life may indeed be full of pain and persecution, but that suffering is what God uses to grow their faith as they become more and more Christlike. This brings God glory when His children depend on Him alone by living their lives as living sacrifices. For this to happen, these precious children need to learn their Bibles and how to live out Romans 12.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:1-21 ESV)
They dedicate their entire beings to becoming holy and well pleasing to their Lord by hating their life here while loving their life to come in eternity.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:24-27 ESV)
People don’t live this way when everything is focused on the here and now to the point where their church has become their idol. This is not really Christianity at all. Instead it is part of a very old religion called Churchianity.